We can all minimize football to trivial data points which really don’t mean a whole lot, but then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (and every other team) can also get a little too clever for their own good sometimes.
The answer to winning consistently lies somewhere between doing what’s expected because you’re good at it, and taking advantage of what your opponent doesn’t expect to see from you.
Coming off a strong performance against the Carolina Panthers, Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich are once again trying to find the balance they need to beat the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football.
From the catalog of doing things the team is good at, running the ball with Ronald Jones II seems to be an easy decision to make. Of course, we’ve said this before, and it didn’t quite go that way.
At the time, Jones had just come off his third-straight 100-yard rushing game. This time it was against the Green Bay Packers in a dominant 38-10 win over Aaron Rodgers and his two-headed backfield featuring Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. A game where Jones outrushed the entire Packers team by nearly 20-yards alone.
Week 6 against the Packers was not only Jones’ third-straight game hitting the century mark, it was the second time in the season he had received twenty carries or more. Both resulted in big performances for the Bucs.
In the first twenty carry game of the year, Jones received exactly ten touches in the first and second halves each, against the Los Angeles Chargers. On the surface this might seem insignificant, but when you consider Tampa Bay entered the second half down 24-14, it would have been reasonable to think Arians and Leftwich might lean heavier on the passing game in quarters three and four.
Instead, the Chargers got ten more looks at Jones, and he turned all twenty carries into 111-yards as the Bucs rode a strong second-half performance to a 38-31 win.
The following week, against the Chicago Bears, Jones had another 100-yard performance, but did so while getting just seventeen carries. Eleven of those carries came in the first half leaving just six carries for Jones in the second half as the Buccaneers dropped back in pass plays 25 times after halftime alone.
Perhaps the most perplexing part at the end of the game was Tampa Bay passing on two of three plays when they held a one-point lead and the ball nearing the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter.
The series used up just 27-seconds of game clock and allowed the Bears to get the ball back with two minutes remaining and two timeouts in their pocket. They didn’t use any, but the pressure of not having them to begin with certainly holds the potential for changing the approach to play calling. Better yet, if Jones comes close to his 6.24 yards per carry average, then the Bucs hold the potential for earning a first down helping them milk the clock and win the game.
Then came last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Jones received 23 carries even after fumbling his first reception of the game to give Teddy Bridgewater prime field position for an early lead. The end result was 192-yards including a 98-yard touchdown run at a critical point in the contest.
Stats lie, but the context of getting Jones involved throughout the game adds juice to those statistics. Jones once again sits third in the NFL in rushing with 730-yards behind only Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans) and Dalvin Cook (Minnesota Vikings). Bottom line, running with Jones is smart, and doing so consistently gives the team their best chance at winning the toughest games.
Enter the Los Angeles Rams defense who are among the best in both pass and rushing defense. No offensive game plan is going to be easy, but finding balance while figuring out what will and will not work is going to be big this Monday night.
We’ve seen this team get pass happy in a hurry, and it’s easy to do so when you have Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, and now Antonio Brown. Balance will be the key however, and Jones is the man to bring it for Tampa Bay.
It’s not the only way the Bucs can win of course as once again the Buccaneers come off an impressive win looking to stack another on top of it. Last time this happened, the Bucs gave Jones the ball just thirteen times and were in a much closer game in the fourth quarter than the 45-20 final score against the Las Vegas Raiders would hint at.
With less than thirteen minutes remaining, the score was 24-20 in favor of the Bucs before two deep takeaways by the defensive unit led to quick scores and a pull-away win.
So, if you’re the Buccaneers and your strongest wins of the season have come off the legs of Ronald Jones II and aggressive defense, it seems wise to lean on both as you try to earn just your third win over a legitimate playoff contender.
Which is why Ronald Jones II is our Tampa Bay Buccaneers X-Factor against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football in Week 11 of the 2020 NFL Season.